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Gardening Made Simple

Gardening Made Simple

An Introduction to Square Foot Gardening

I’ve been interested in gardening for a long time but never felt like I had the knowledge (or the time!) to do more than a few potted plants or herbs.  Then I stumbled upon a book called All New Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew and he made everything seem so simple that I was inspired to start my first full scale garden.  His technique maximizes space and minimizes work – two very important features for busy people and small yards.  Essentially you build (or buy) raised beds, divide each bed into one foot squares and then plant each square with a different vegetable, fruit or flower. This method has a lot of benefits over traditional tilled row gardens.  The beds were straight forward to make and eliminated the hassle of ripping up sod and tilling the soil.  The soil mixture contains compost, peat moss and vermiculite which means you don’t have to bother testing your soil or doctoring it up.  It also means that your dirt isn’t full of weed seed and what few weeds you have pull up really easily.  The condensed space management yields a lot of produce from a small space.  And if that’s not enough, it also looks really nice.

Mel Bartholomew (the author) claims that compared to traditional gardening this method uses takes half the cost, 20% of the space, 10% of the water, 5% of the seeds and 2% of the work.  Wow.  He summarizes Square Gardening Basics in the following 10 Basic Steps:

  1. Layout – Form your garden in squares as opposed to traditional rows.  4 feet x 4 feet is the standard size but this can be adjusted to meet your specific requirements.
  2. Boxes – Use raised beds instead of digging your garden into the ground.
  3. Aisles – Space your beds at least 3 feet apart so you never have to walk on your growing soil.
  4. Soil – “Mel’s Mix” is composed of 1 part compost, 1 part peat moss and 1 part vermiculite.  High quality compost even eliminates the need for fertilizer.
  5. Grid – Place a grid on top of each box that segments the soil into 1 foot x 1 foot squares
  6. Care – Don’t walk on your soil or it will compact.  Tend your garden from the aisles.
  7. Select – Choose a different vegetable (or fruit or flower) for each square.  Each square can support between 1 & 16 plants based on that plant’s size and space requirements.
  8. Plant – Plant 2 or 3 seeds per hole or buy transplants.
  9. Water – Water when plants look droopy or the soil feels dry a couple inches below the surface.  Hand watering is recommended.
  10. Harvest – After harvesting a square foot just add compost and replant it with a different crop.

This year was our first real attempt at gardening and it was a big success!  We opted for 4 raised beds, each 4 feet x 4 feet and located right beyond our back door.  We actually have more sun and more space out front but I wanted a convenient location so I would go out there more often.  I’m really glad we put it close by because it was easy to access from the kitchen and we could look out the back window and see everything growing which was fun.  I was wary that 6 inch beds were too shallow but our plants had good roots and didn’t seem to mind.  (I did however plant carrots and potatoes in separate containers because I knew they needed a deeper space).  We decided to install optional bottoms on our beds because we have a lot of moles running rampant around our yard.  We also made a trellis for the north side of each bed for to support our tallest plants.

Overall I was really happy with this method.  Our garden looked great, grew well and was very easy to care for.  The soil was nice and crumbly, I hardly ever had to weed, the boxes drained well and this summer was so wet that I only watered once a week (don’t expect that in dry climates though!).  Basically you get all the benefits of a traditional garden with less work, less weeding, less watering and more produce.  If you’re thinking about starting a garden, this is seriously the way to go!

If you want to take the plunge, the book is great and provides way more info and well written, easy to follow instructions for the entire process.  Check it out on Amazon: :  Or try your local library, you’ll be happy you did!

Photo Credit: Child Tending Broken Baby Seedling, a photo by Pink Sherbet Photography on Flickr.

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